How has technology changed since the last coronation in the UK?

The last coronation in the United Kingdom was in 1953 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. But how has technology changed since then?
Christopher McFadden
The world has changed alot since 1953.

Cecil Beaton/Wikimedia Commons 

  • On Saturday, the 6th of May 2023, the United Kingdom will officially crown its next monarch, King Charles III.
  • The last coronation of Charles III's mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was held in 1953.
  • But what has changed in the interim 70 years, technologically speaking?

Technology has changed significantly since the last coronation of a monarch in the U.K. in the 1950s. Advancements in various fields have driven technological progress and transformed how people live, work, and communicate. But what have been the most groundbreaking changes? Let's find out.

How has technology changed since the last British coronation?

Since the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II (may she rest in peace), the world has changed beyond all recognition in terms of technology. Many of these changes are taken for granted by many of us today, but, as you are about to find out, some of them were genuinely revolutionary.

The following are but a small hand-selected list of examples and is, therefore, not intended to be a comprehensive list. It is also in no particular order.

1. The integrated circuit has changed the world

How has technology changed since the last coronation in the UK?
The integrated circuit was a major technological development.

One of the biggest technological changes is the advent of the Integrated Circuit (IC). These are small but powerful arrangements of electronic components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors embedded in a semiconductor material, usually silicon. This revolutionary technology was invented separately in 1958/1959 by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce (the first patent for an integrated circuit was awarded on April 25, 1961) and has since transformed the world of electronics. ICs have significantly reduced costs, increased efficiency, and decreased device sizes by making complex circuits smaller.

Today, ICs are the foundation of modern electronics, enabling the creation of groundbreaking innovations such as desktop computers, smartphones, and IoT devices. As technology has advanced, ICs have evolved into even more powerful forms, such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, and system-on-chips, constantly pushing the boundaries of computing power and energy efficiency.

2. PCs and the internet ushered in the "Digital Age"

Thanks in no small part to the advent of the IC, another major change since 1953 has been the development of personal computers and the internet. Our modern "Digital Age," as it has come to be called, arguably began with the development of the first production transistor-based computer, the famous IBM 701 (earlier transistor-based computers were not broadly commercially available). This was made possible thanks to the development of microprocessors which increased computational power and paved the way for personal computers, popularized by companies such as Apple and IBM. In 1969, the internet emerged from ARPANET, a U.S. Department of Defense project designed for decentralized communication. The standardization of TCP/IP protocols in the 1980s led to the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 and the first web browser in 1990. The 1990s saw rapid expansion and commercialization of the Internet, which gave rise to search engines, e-commerce, and social media. This digital revolution transformed industries, communication, and society as a whole, driving innovation and connecting people across the globe.

3. Mobile phones have shrunk the world

How has technology changed since the last coronation in the UK?
Cell phones have changed many aspects of our lives.

Yet another significant technological change since 1953 has been the invention of mobile phones. These portable communication devices enable voice calls, text messaging, and internet access through cellular networks. The first commercial handheld mobile phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, was introduced in 1983, primarily focusing on voice communication. The 1990s saw a surge in mobile phone adoption, accompanied by improvements in design, battery life, network coverage – and price (the Dynatac 8000X would cost the equivalent of $11,700 if bought today).

The early 2000s marked the arrival of feature phones, which offered basic multimedia capabilities, such as cameras, music players, and simple games. In 2007, the launch of Apple's iPhone revolutionized the industry by introducing smartphones – powerful devices with advanced computing abilities, high-resolution touchscreens, and app ecosystems.

Smartphones have become ubiquitous today, with Android and iOS being the dominant operating systems. These devices now offer various functionalities, including GPS navigation, high-quality cameras, and mobile payment systems. The continuous innovation in mobile phone technology has transformed how we live, work, and communicate, making them an essential part of modern life. To people in the 1950s, they would probably appear almost magical.

4. We've been to space since the last coronation

Of all the technological changes since the early-1950s, our species' expansion into space is possibly the most dramatic change. Milestones, technological advancements, and global collaboration have marked space exploration since the 1950s. The "Space Race" between the United States and the Soviet Union began in 1957 with the launch of "Sputnik 1," the first artificial satellite. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space aboard Vostok 1, and in 1969, the U.S.'s Apollo 11 mission made history as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

The following decades saw the development of reusable spacecraft, such as NASA's "Space Shuttle" program (1981-2011), and the construction of modular space stations, including Russia's "Mir" (1986-2001) and the International Space Station (ISS), a collaborative project involving multiple countries, operational since 1998. All the technology needed to make this happen has also been filtered to the general public through "spin-off" technologies and other tech, including global positioning systems.

Uncrewed missions have also played a significant role in space exploration. Robotic probes, such as the "Voyager," "Mars Rover," and "New Horizons" missions, have advanced our understanding of the solar system, visiting planets, moons, and other celestial bodies.

In recent years, private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have entered the realm of space exploration, focusing on reducing costs, reusable rocket technology, and space tourism. SpaceX's "Falcon Heavy" and "Crew Dragon" spacecraft have been particularly influential, enabling cargo and crewed missions to the ISS.

5. We've since mapped the human genome

How has technology changed since the last coronation in the UK?
The discovery of the structure of DNA has proved revolutionary for many fields.

The structure of DNA was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. Their groundbreaking work was based on experimental data. Watson and Crick's discovery revolutionized our understanding of genetics and paved the way for numerous advances in molecular biology and genetics.

Since then, work on DNA has culminated in The Human Genome Project (HGP), an international scientific research endeavor to map the complete sequence of human DNA, encompassing approximately 3 billion base pairs. Launched in 1990 and completed in 2003, the HGP was a collaborative effort involving researchers worldwide, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust in the U.K.

The HGP has profoundly impacted various scientific fields, including genomics, medicine, and biotechnology. It has led to the development of new diagnostic techniques, personalized medicine approaches, and targeted therapies for various illnesses. Additionally, the project has spurred advancements in DNA sequencing technologies, significantly reducing costs and increasing accessibility for a broader range of applications.

6. Artificial intelligence has risen since the 1950s

Probably most significant for the future is the development of artificial intelligence. Largely inconceivable to people in 1953, AI has evolved significantly since the 1950s. Early optimism marked the birth of AI, with rule-based systems like Arthur Samuel's Checkers program. The 1970s and 1980s saw a shift towards knowledge-based and expert systems, such as MYCIN and DENDRAL, and the rise of AI languages like LISP and Prolog. In the 1990s and 2000s, machine learning emerged as the primary focus, with algorithms like Support Vector Machines and Neural Networks leading to improved speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing.

The 2010s witnessed the rise of deep learning, with robust architectures like CNNs (convolutional neural networks), RNNs (recurrent neural networks), and transformer deep learning models revolutionizing AI applications. From 2020 onwards, AI research has progressed rapidly, integrating into daily life across various fields. Ethical considerations and responsible use have become increasingly important as AI's societal influence grows.

7. For better or worse, we've got social media today

How has technology changed since the last coronation in the UK?
Social media has changed many aspects of our lives.

And finally, another major difference in technology between the 1950s and today is the advent of social media.

Social media has evolved dramatically since its inception. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, platforms like SixDegrees, Friendster, and MySpace laid the foundation for connecting users based on interests and shared connections. The mid-2000s saw the rise of Facebook and Twitter, which popularized social networking and microblogging, enabling users to share updates, photos, and messages with their networks. YouTube emerged as a video-sharing platform, transforming how users create, consume, and share content.

The 2010s witnessed the rapid growth of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, emphasizing visual content and short-form videos, while LinkedIn became the go-to platform for professional networking. Social media became essential for businesses, marketing, and activism, enabling global movements and viral content. With the ever-growing prevalence of smartphones, social media's impact on society intensified, raising concerns about privacy, mental health, and the spread of misinformation.

And that's your lot for today.

The world has changed significantly over the last 70 years since the last coronation in the United Kingdom. While some technology, like microwaves, televisions, cars, etc., have changed dramatically but would be recognizable to people back then, computers, smartphones, and the internet would undoubtedly blow their minds. While we cannot be sure how long King Charles III will be on the throne, we wonder how technology will have changed when his son, Prince William, takes up the reins.

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